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The Financial repercussions of dog aggression

I always read the “Letters to the Editor” page, as I believe we all find this page informative, helpful and sometimes it gives us a precautionary warning. Such a warning letter to the Editor Peter Baker recently recived and because of theme of my recent articles regarding the Dangerous Dogs Laws, he asked if I could write the reply.

This Letter written and sent to the Costa Blanca News on the Thursday had in the Fridays copy my article 107 that in part answered her question that all dogs are capable of aggression and so all should have insurance. The letter was as follows

Dear Editor,
Can you please advise me as to what constitutes a "dangerous dog" in Spain, and for which breeds is insurance obligatory under Spanish law.

The reason I ask this question is that I was recently savagely attacked by a mastiff/Alsatian crossbreed - the damage from which necessitated several operations.

Unfortunately, the injury was so severe that I had to have my right arm amputated just below the shoulder. Having asked several people this question, I cannot get a specific answer. Even my Spanish solicitors, and a Spanish Forensic Doctor who examined me, could not reply positively.

As this could, in fact, affect many of your dog-owning readers, I feel this could be a question of some importance to them.

Yours sincerely,

Christine Baker (a lifetime dog owner and dog lover.)

The next day Christine telephoned me to tell me about her letter and to give me more details of her ordeal. One of the statistics of dog attacks is that most are by a dog known to the person either their own dog or that of a neighbour.

This was such a case as Christine who knew this dog and had even looked after it when the owner went away. It was whilst looking after it there were odd signs similar to jealousy directed towards her and her own dogs. When she was walking her dogs one day, this dog savagely attacked her dog. The Dangerous dogs act in Section C states a dangerous dog is any dog that has previously shown aggression to any person or other animal. In this case, most humans are often very tolerant and forgiving often allowing for the odd misdemeanour as being insignificant. What we do forget to consider is how bad the next attack could be and if the next victim were a child. Would we forgive ourselves if such an attack happened and we had done nothing?

One day Christine visited the house of the owner of the dog and whilst talking to him the dog attacked her. For eight to nine minutes, she struggled with the dog as it was severely savaging her right arm. The elderly owner tried in vain to pull this very powerful dog off her but to no avail.

Eventually Christine did the unthinkable, but the most sensible defence, she tried to poke the dog’s eyes out and pressed them with all her might. It did release but then attacked her left hand causing it considerable damage as well. Finally, when the dog did release its grip, they rushed Christine to hospital but after a few days, the surgeons stated that because of the damage they must amputate her arm.

Because there was little understanding as to why the dog should suddenly attack someone, particularly someone it knew Christine also had to undergo Rabies injections directly into the stomach. This is very painful and damaging but it is also a very necessary precaution. I understand that following the rabies test the vet put the dog to sleep. Based on my understanding of the attack and that here in Spain there are no recorded incidence of Rabies I doubted that it had this disease.

Though she has lost her arm, she never the less can still feel it is still there and she can still move her fingers but for some reason her arm is just invisible. Add to this the severe discomfort, endless pain, together with a life now so changed that such a simple task as buttoning clothes now requires constant carers.

This dog attack has not taken a life but certainly changed a life forever. Now there follows years of training with prosthetics and rehabilitation to the way she lives in order to come to terms with what has happened all changed because of a dog.

Not only does it affect her life but also that of her husband’s as it will change those of all the members of her family and friends and for why. I think we could well understand a lifetime of being a dog lover could have just so simply ended following those nine minuets of hell that will now remain a constant and painful memory. Can we not learn from an experience to try to stop them happening again?

In my article 105 I detailed the confusion of Spanish Dog aggression laws and 106 and 107 giving dangerous dog law examples where it appears nothing is learned and nothing is done to protect us all from further dog aggression. Certainly there is a major flaw in the criminal law regarding dangerous dogs as it only targets certain breeds, as being aggressive there has to be change. Add to this the apparent apathy that exists by the authorities to enforce such laws in order to prevent further attacks. Further, many dog owners now seem to treat dog aggression as simply a hazard of everyday life because of the need for dogs as burglar alarms.

I wrote the other week that the highly influential Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) believes and suggests that the new EU laws be based on targeting only those dogs likely to or are showing early signs of aggression. Fine word but we still have owners who will just sit there and do nothing knowing their dog is aggressive towards anybody using the excuse that their dog is there to protect their family and their assets. They are quite prepared to take the risk that their dogs will attack the wrong person rather than improve their security. Owners seem reluctant to accept they also have a responsibility and duty of care towards the security of other people by teaching their dog socialbility.

Do not get me wrong I do understand the feeling of rage that follows after someone burgled our house. I wanted to fit copper draft excluder to all the doors and windows with the copper attached to the mains electricity. The next burglar who stuck a jemmy between the window and frame would have a shocking experience.

As I calmed down, I could see that it would be dangerous for anyone who opened the windows and we all know that to kill a burglary is manslaughter.

You may remember the story about the two Rottweilers that killed a burglar here in Spain. I know many people think it was simply juctice except death is not the penalty for burglary. The court of human rights cannot allow such dogs to become judge and jury. If by law you cannot own a gun to shoot someone then why do people think they can therefore use a dog with impunity?

In fact, there is no impunity as even if the authorities take no criminal action there is in fact justice that we rarely hear about and that is the civil action for compensation. Even though criminal fines can be high, compensation claims are astronomical and why there is this necessity for insurance cover.

Some years ago, I was talking to John Rogerson about the reasons for the noticeable reduction of the numbers of dogs owned in the UK. He suggested this was due to the laws restricting where dogs could go and that if their dog was the cause of any incident then compensations claims can if the owner is not insured end up loosing their houses. This sort of action in order to obtain compensation a common one lawyers use frequently.

In this case, the lawyers have found the owner did not even have property insurance that might have covered this third party claim for compensation. I say might because insurance companies hate paying claims and I would expect them to investigate this dog for any previous signs of aggression. If they found any they could state that under the law the dog was dangerous and therefore need registering with the obligatory third party insurance.

With so many different dog descriptions as to the discription of what constitutes a dangerous dog in a country with 17 different Comunidades it is like learning to drive here using 17 different versions of the Highway Code? Mind you looking at the way people do drive here maybe that is the reason.

In answer to Christine’s letter under the various Spanish area laws those dogs listed as dangerous plus in some areas any powerful dogs over 25 kilograms together with any dog of any size that has previously give cause for concern towards anyone or has had earlier shows aggression toward any person or animal. Any such dogs must then register as dangerous and have the obligatory third party insurance. Hands up how many do.

As Christine found she was even unable to obtain the answer to her question from her own lawyer. The law is flouted everywhere so this is possibly why owners would rather sit back and wait until someone complains.

If people do think that because the dog aggression laws are in a mess they feel it is unnecessary to insure your dog then the laws regarding compensation are not. If your dog harms anyone, any animal, or any property then the owners of the dog can face massive compensation claims. Strange as it, sounds maiming a child for life will cost more than if the dog had killed the child.

If you believe your house insurance will cover you for any third party claim against your aggressive dog then please do check with your insurance broker. The agents are great at selling you insurance but getting the company to actually pay is another matter. If you find you are not insured and subject to a claim for compensation then expect the court to place an embargo on your property.

To answer Christine properly I can only suggest you do as I did with Winston. He is a 35-40 kilogram Rhodesian ridgeback crossed with a boxer. He does sort of fit the description of a dangerous dog even if his character is very friendly but if someone presses all the right buttons maybe he could bite. However here in Javea there is no 25-kilogram minimum so he does not need to register unless he does show any dangerous aggression. If he does then I must follow a laid down procedure to register. I will go through this in the next article.

Never the less I do not have any property insurance so if anything happened and he was the cause of an accident I am not covered. Because of this, do I not owe it to all of you that I at least have third party insurance for him? It is not better to be safe than sorry in case the worst happens.

My main concern is that the Dog aggression law as they stand now, compensation laws and third party Insurance these are all for after the event. Should we not all try to stop all these attacks ever happening and to train our dogs so that they are sociable and therefore less likely to create an incident?

If any dog does begin to show any sign of major aggression then there is help to correct this. The British Police were asking over 40 years ago for the power to be able to approach dog owners instead of imposing fines but to offer help with correcting aggressive dog behaviour.

All dogs are dangerous and almost all dogs can when really pushed use their teeth to protect themselves even if it appears it is they who are attacking you. Many owners will not accept that dog aggression is the fault of the owner’s inappropriate training. Only in very rare occasions is it the fault of the dog.

We cannot expect all owners to be expert dog handlers so we have to accept if they do not train their dog’s correctly then errors are inevitable. Is it because things can go wrong that you have insurance for your house, your car, and your gun then why should all people not be required by law to have adequate insurance for their dogs.

Let’s be careful out there and obtain insurance for our dogs.

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